If a party must be fit for power, Ukip's not fit for purpose
If Farage can’t or won’t cut a deal, and his forecast of an ill-wind blowing in from Romania and Bulgaria fails to materialise, he’ll soon be back to straightening out our cucumbers, not our country
Last weekend’s ComRes survey for the the Independent on Sunday claimed one in five people would vote Ukip in a general election. Labour is now at its lowest point since Ed Miliband became leader (35 percent), with the Tories at 29 percent and Lib Dems eight percent. Monday’s Survation poll, meanwhile, has Ukip on a whopping 22 percent, two points behind the Tories.
He may grin a little too widely for some people’s taste, but it’s hard to begrudge Nigel Farage his moment in the political sun.
Midterm politics, like the middle overs of a one-day cricket match, tend to be tedious. Farage is the perfect tonic to a low political run rate.
Watching him revel in overnight popularity on Newsnight beats enduring another lifeless interview with Andrew Lansley or Jeremy Hunt. So, heck, why not submit to his considerable charms? Nigel Farage: He’s so nice, you want to vote twice!
But, of course, honeymoons don’t lasts. And if a party must be fit for power, Ukip is not fit for purpose.
Despite successes in Eastleigh, South Shields, and the local elections, Ukip is, at heart, just another little “anti” party. Anti-EU, anti-Jonny Foreigner, anti-multiculturalism, anti-establishment, anti-unions and anti-big government. The only thing it’s “pro” is “test”.
For 20 years it’s got its knickers in a twist over imagined Euro threats to Blighty, from an end to imperial measurements to a ban on crooked cucumbers. Its salad days might be over, but it’ll be a very different story when things get serious again in 2015.
Ukip’s is a triumph of fortune over foresight. The political planets have aligned in ways that suggest God might be convinced to vote ‘Out’ in an EU referendum.
Turnout at the local elections was a paltry 31 percent. Nobody should view a mid-term poll in which only one in four bother with the ballot box as democracy in action. Indeed, the motivation for many who voted was simply to give David Cameron a bloody nose. And a black eye. And a really nasty Chinese burn.
They may have gained 148 local council seats, but Ukip will always be more concerned with the single currency than the shires. Now Farage must convince those who backed him out of apathy more than loyalty that his party can run public services in the quieter corners of England’s green and pleasant land. That would be no mean feat for an anti-party with no political machine or genuine guiding principles.
The best Ukip can aim for is some sort of deal with the Tories after a strong showing at next year’s European elections. That would be the perfect moment for Farage to cash in his chips.
After all, the Conservatives are intent on stealing his thunder, with Lord Lawson, Philip Hammond, Michael Gove and others pushing for Britain’s exit from the EU.
Lord Tebbit even advised Conservative voters to back Ukip at the local elections in shires where it might topple Labour.
And new plans to curb immigration were at the heart of the Queen’s Speech, with short-term migrants paying for NHS care, stricter immigration checks for landlords, and illegal migrants being refused driving licences.
Farage might reflect on how the Greens surged from nowhere to become the fourth party at the turn of the century, until Labour and the Conservatives seized on their key policies and made them redundant.
Why have a Green Party when the mainstream parties all need green policies? Why have a Ukip Party when the mainstream parties all need to be strong on welfare and immigration?
The only line voters will care about come general election time is the bottom line – the economy. Are incomes up? Is the cost of living down? Europe won’t register.
If Farage can’t or won’t cut a deal, and his forecast of an ill-wind blowing in from Romania and Bulgaria fails to materialise, he’ll soon be back to straightening out our cucumbers, not our country.
Richard Ferrer is the Editor of the Jewish News. He’s also worked at the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, and edited the Boston Jewish Advocate. Follow him on Twitter @RichFerrer
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